Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Is the system broken????

Is there justice in our prison system? Or The system that governs our prisons.

Outside of the prison walls, when you commit a crime and are caught, you are charged, brought before a judge and perhaps a jury of your peers, and a trial brings forth a decision on your guilt or innocence. Is this a perfect system? No - not by any means, but it is a system that serves our society well and it is by far the best justice system in the world today.

Now you have been sentenced to prison. You arrive at a prison and are presented with a new set of rules and a mini system of justice within the system that brought you there. Is this system perfect? No. Is it close to perfect? No. Is it a justice system that deserves any respect? In my opinion – no it does not.

Where did we go wrong? What happened after sentencing and incarceration that corrupted our system of justice? We bring an individual to serve a sentence in what the prison industry PR Gurus have called a ‘correctional system’. We lock these men and women up in a system of authority and in some cases abuse of authority. Authority does not automatically equal abuse, but the possibility is there.

Here is a very simple example of what I am talking about… A prisoner’s cell is subject to a routine search for contraband. During the search the prisoner’s pillow is ripped open by the Correctional Officer to determine if anything is hidden inside. No contraband is found in the prisoner’s cell or in the pillow. The prisoner is left to clean up his cell and also left with a ripped pillow. The prisoner over the next few months makes three direct requests for a new pillow since the stuffing is falling out of his ripped pillow – the pillow ripped by the Correctional Officer. There is no response to his repeated requests. Fed up with the stuffing falling out of his pillow the prisoner finds the means to sew up the pillow with a needle and thread that he pulled from an old T-shirt. Nine months from the last cell search, the Correctional Officers return for another routine cell search. This time, as with the last, no contraband was found. This time the Correctional Officer on inspection of the prisoners pillow notices that it has been ‘hand stitched’ and then proceeds to rip the pillow open expecting to find something hidden inside. Nothing was found. The Correctional Officer issues the prisoner a violation for ‘destruction of DOC property’. The prisoner requests a meeting with his case worker to review this violation and pleads that if they look in his file that they will find three requests for a new pillow after the last cell search. The prisoner knew that there was proof that the violation was not deserved. The case worker refused to review the prisoners file and stated that the violation stood because the Correctional Officer observed damage to DOC property - the prisoner was guilty based on the Correctional Officer’s observation.

Some will read this and say “So what?”. I read this and I am appalled that this abuse of authority can and does take place. This is a simple situation, this is not a serious violation and did not carry any ‘punishment’ to speak of but that is furthest from the point here. The prisoner is guilty based on the Correctional Officers statement. Proof exists to justify the damage to the pillow, yet the system will not even open the file to verify. The justice system is built inside the prison to support ONLY the statement of the Correctional Officer even if evidence exists to prove the Correctional Officer wrong. This may seem like a situation that most would just excuse as insignificant, but it is not. It is not insignificant because it only identifies that in more serious situations, a Correctional Officer may use his or her authority to make an allegation against a prisoner that is false and the system will support this allegation without question.

I have recently been personally involved in a situation with a prisoner where there was indeed a false allegation made against the prisoner and it was clear (although not proven) that the allegation was made out of a bigoted and discriminatory view held by the Correctional Officer. It was also further substantiated by a case worker that made a direct statement to the prisoner that the ‘violation was crap’ but that he had to find the prisoner guilty based on the statement made by the Correctional Officer. This violation, unlike the one above, was serious and carried a potentially significant and serious punishment. I will not go into more detail with this situation because it is not necessary to make the point. The point being that in certain situations Correctional Officers have the ability to abuse their authority and charge prisoners with violations that are false purely out of anger, retaliation, and/or personal intolerance for an individual or situation. I am by no means stating that all Correctional Officers will act like this – but I will state that most all Correctional Officers are aware of these potential abuses of authority and do not speak up and support the prisoner – they will support their own.

I think what concerns me the most is that until you are 'right inside' this system you have absolutely no idea how corrupt it really is. Three years ago, I lived my life completely ignorant to the corruption that exists in prisons today. I went to work and came home thinking that our system of justice kept me safe by dealing with criminals inside a well developed system of justice. This is not the case. Once inside the system of justice, the laws that we respect on the outside are gone. The justice that we expect on the outside is gone. Any Prisoner still has the right to truth and justice even when inside our prison system. What happens inside our prison system however is not based on truth and justice, but often pure abuse of authority that stems from racism, discrimination, and personal intolerances of the authority figure. How can you possibly expect any Prisoner to rehabilitate from a system of justice that in itself is corrupt and allows abuses of authority to take place?

I understand the need for throwing someone in prison and removing their rights. We must have law and order and there must be punishment for those that break the law - but not to the extent that the 'system' punishing these law breakers can now run in a corrupt manner with no responsibility to what is right and wrong, moral, or ethical. How can we then expect to return an individual to society that can function within the rules of what is right and good and accepted when the system that is responsible to punish them is corrupt and does not work in a trustworthy and just manner!

The prison system where we have housed these men and women has just succeeded in teaching prisoners to be unethical, discriminatory, how to circumvent rules, be subjective, and to expect to be abused, mistreated, and wrongly handled even when you do something that is right. What it boils down to is that it does not matter how good you are, the corrupt system will find a way to interfere with you and teach you to not respect the authority that is the very authority responsible for your rehabilitation and ‘correction’

The system is broken.

September 11, 2004

Edification - Build Confidence and Self Esteem

What is “Edification”? Lets start with the definition:

Edification \Ed`i*fi*ca"tion\, n. [L. aedificatio: cf. F. ['e]dification. See {Edify}.] 1. The act of edifying, or the state of being edified; a building up, especially in a moral or spiritual sense; moral, intellectual, or spiritual improvement; instruction.

How do we learn right from wrong or good from bad? By example? How do we know when we are right? How do we know when we are wrong? Usually there is a reaction to everything that we do. This reaction comes in the form of praise, acceptance, encouragement and satisfaction from our actions. If the action is positive then the reaction is usually positive, but if the action is negative then the reaction is usually negative. We learn through positive and negative reinforcement throughout our lives. Because we desire pleasure rather than pain, we usually learn that the positive action produces a pleasurable result and is therefore more desirable. We hopefully act accordingly.

As children we look to our parents or guardians for positive reinforcement. We learn that being good usually brings greater rewards than being bad. For most of us (or hopefully so) we grew up in an environment that provided us positive reinforcement for what we did well. Hopefully most of us were encouraged when a talent was uncovered as we grew. All of us are talented in many ways and some of us need the positive encouragement to pursue these talents where others can and do derive personal pleasure pursuing these talents. Overall however, I believe that all of us need positive encouragement to realize our true potential.

Where have we gone wrong? Why do we constantly beat people down? Why do we prefer to highlight someone’s deficiency rather than their talent? Why do we assault someone for their ethnic background or skin color rather than celebrate their goodness and what they offer society and us? We make a judgement based on outward appearance before we know the person. We don’t give ourselves the opportunity to see what most people can offer us because we have already made our minds up that they are less then us because of something that is different and not acceptable to us. We make our judgement before the person even has a chance to wow us with their talent or offering.

We not only do this with strangers; we do this with our own family and friends. We bash ideas that are presented by family and friends as “stupid” rather than listening and supporting our loved ones. We say negative words to our loved ones constantly… “Don’t be so stupid” “Don’t be an idiot” “That won’t work” “Get your head out of the clouds” “Be realistic” “You are a dreamer”. There are obviously many more negative things that we say but I am sure you get the picture.

When we are kids we want attention of our parents or guardians. If we don’t get positive attention and reinforcement then we will go for the negative – at least we are getting attention. If negative attention is all that we get I believe that we become programmed to look for just this kind of attention. We are programmed for life to look for and give negative reinforcement instead of positive. Does handing out negative reinforcement make us feel better about ourselves? Does it? Sure, if you have never had positive reinforcement then handing out the negative means that someone else is less than you are. Therefore we feel better? I am not trying to play psychologist here - this is just personal observation and theory.

What would happen to our world if we were positive and supportive of people? What would happen if we complemented people and encouraged them? What would life be like if we felt good about our accomplishments and recognized that our talents were respected and needed? Don’t we strive to do an even better job when our boss pats us on the back? Don’t we crave the pride of our parents when we do well, and don’t we enjoy what we do that much more? Don’t we help people more when we are thanked and appreciated? Don’t we feel better about ourselves and become stronger when we believe that we are worthy, productive and contributing in our society?

We can all become better through edification. Edification is an interesting thing. Start small and build up. Edify someone at your work place. It is as simple as – “You know, you do this job so well each time that I was hoping you would take it on again.” Instead of – “Can you do this again?” Edify your kids, your mother, your brother… With your kid it is as simple as – “Hey, a C+ is better than the C you got last time! You obviously put more effort in and you are getting better. Way to go.” Instead of – “You can do better than a C+”. It is a simple way of building confidence and giving praise in a positive but subtle way. Edification is not pouring compliments all over people in a patronizing way – it is sincere and calculated positive speak.

Would you not feel good as that kid if your parents gave you a “way to go” instead of just a “you can do better”? Now you don’t feel a failure and you have motivation to do even better. As the work colleague, you may have always done a good job on that particular project but now someone has acknowledged it in a subtle way. You now have a positive feeling of accomplishment and know that my work is not just taken for granted. You go through the rest of the day with a smile on your face.

You know what is interesting is that usually when you become a positive person that is dishing out the positive, you start to receive it back! We all love a positive environment and when you start to feel what it is like then you want to be a part of it. If you are positive then others will be too. It is an infectious feeling that only the most committed “sour puss” won’t fall prey to!

We are all guilty of breaking people rather than building them. We all do it in subtle ways. With some introspection and careful choice of words we can all offer positive reinforcement and build stronger lives and relationships too. Relationships in the home, in the workplace, and on the street can benefit from edification.

Edification is blind to racial background, religion, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, body type, if you wear glasses, if you are bald, if you dress differently… Edification is about what is positive inside that person. Edification is about what that person does well and not what they don’t do well.

Think about what edification can do in our lives. Think about what edification can do for our loved ones in prison. We know that prison is a horribly negative environment where men and women are beaten into mental and emotional submission. We know that our loved ones in prison don’t receive praise for anything that they do inside of prison. I would suppose that each and every one of them gets a good healthy dose of NEGATIVE on a daily basis. Let’s build our loved ones up to feel purposeful and positive about their existence. Start small and grow your positive speak. Don’t dish it all out at once because they will wonder what has hit them so hard and it will appear canned. Sometimes we are all so negatively programmed that we really have to look hard to find something that we can promote positively. We are not used to looking at anything in this way so we struggle at first. Have patience it will come.

I have been involved with groups that are focused on the positive of the members for some time. I am an advocate at my workplace of supporting accomplishment and recognizing talent and ability. We all have unique abilities and we all have deficiencies – lets celebrate the abilities.

My Partner has commented on the fact that I can offer him more praise in one letter than he has received in his lifetime from family and friends. This is sad – really sad! I am not even looking for things to praise with my Partner, they are all there in the forefront! He has incredible talents, skills, and deep emotions and caring that has been hidden for so long. He has just never been in receipt of positive support and reinforcement. Never! This is such a shame. When I first met this man I was looking so hard for something to praise because he was always commenting on the fact (accepted in his mind) that he was a %$#@ UP! – His words. It took some time to find a crack in the cement that had cured so many years ago but I finally found one. Now don’t start to think that this is a ‘project’ for me because it is not. This is the way that I am and I will always look first for the good and only look at the bad if it overshadows… I like a positive environment and I will always look for a positive comment to make. My Partner could not make a complement or positive reinforcing statement to me in the beginning. It was just out of his realm. It was just foreign to him. Now he offers me the same positive support that I give him. This is a changed man but I am not responsible for this change. All I did was build him up with words! Just words! The positive worth as a person was there all the time, it had just been beaten into submission by negativity over so many years. He has never viewed himself as anything but a %$#@ up! Wow!

Our Prisoners are much more than their crimes! They have worth and they can give and receive love. No matter what the crime, there is someone out there that loves him or her. They all have/had a mother, father, brother or sister. Let’s show them that they have worth. Let’s show them that they have value. Our Prisoners probably need more positive edification than some others do and it will have nothing but positive results. Positive breeds positive – it is an amazing thing.

Edify them. It will come back to you (and them) I promise!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Incarcerated Love - View From Outside

Hello, my name is Teb. I am a gay man in love with a man in prison in the United States. This article I wrote about 2 years ago. I was frustrated and sick of the prison system. I am however happy to say that my Partner and I are approaching our 4th anniversary together and we are stronger than ever! Loving anyone in prison is difficult. The system makes it difficult.

These are my words, and the next post is actually from my Partner - those words are his view.

Incarcerated Love – A Perspective

To love a Prisoner or not to love a Prisoner – Is this a question to ask yourself? For some, loving a Prisoner is a fact of life. For some, it is a realization yet to happen. For some, it would be a fate worse than death!

Is this the most atrocious thing that one could consider? How on earth could you love a Prisoner? Are you crazy? What kind of life do you have, or will you have? They are criminals! How could you? Walk away now! Can’t you find someone that is not in prison? What did they do? How do you know that you are safe? If they were worth anything they would not be in prison.

I am a gay male in love with a gay Prisoner and over the last two years I have heard just about every possible reaction and objection that you can imagine. I realize these friends and family members are looking out for my best interests, but now I also realize that their comments are generalized opinion, which is shared by the masses and not based on knowledge of fact.

I never quite fit the category of the person who would think it atrocious to love a Prisoner, but I do believe that my attitudes have changed significantly over the last couple of years in regard to Prisoners. Two years ago in fact I was one of the ones where loving a Prisoner was a realization yet to happen. Two years ago I did not know anyone in prison or that had ever been in prison. I was naïve to the world of incarceration, to prisons, to the lingo, to the atrocities of conditions and most of all I was naïve to the degree of love and commitment that could be reached by loving a Prisoner. I was blind to the fact that a Prisoner is more than just their crime.

To many of us a Prisoner is a mother, father, brother, sister, friend or significant other. It is someone that we love, and someone that has been and is a substantial part of our lives. To some, Prisoners are the lowest of the low, and are where they should be based on what they have done. For those that are not personally connected to a Prisoner, they have no other reference than the fact that this individual wronged society and they are paying for their crime. These people tend to lump together all Prisoners in one category, and do not see the differentiation from the level of prison security, to the type of crime. These people are our worst nightmare. These people generalize that all Prisoners are the same and deserve equal treatment. This is not the case and it is in my experience one of the hardest generalizations to get past. Our loved one - our Prisoner - (regardless of the crime) could be a cellmate with a murderer, rapist, white-collar criminal, drug offender, a violent offender or a non-violent offender. Our loved one is surely one of these categories or one that I have not listed here, but all of these Prisoners are walking the same halls and sharing the same cells. There is no differentiation allotted by the prison system, so how can we expect the general public to understand this differentiation? They will not. We are plagued with ignorant ideas and representations of Prisoners because of the system.

A Prisoner is first and foremost a human being. There are many Prisoners that have committed crimes so heinous that even I will say “throw away the key”! But even these Prisoners are human beings. All Prisoners were born of a mother that I am going to blindly say loved them. We are all from a family of sorts, and Prisoners may or may not have people in that family that still love and care for them. You see if I ask “What is a Prisoner”, we must also include in the mix the family and friends of this Prisoner. These family and friends essentially become Prisoners too. They are treated differently by society and in many cases hide from society. So, if every Prisoner is a human being then we must regard and respect Prisoners as such. We must understand that all Prisoners are capable of thought, emotion, pain, suffering, faith or religion, remorse and rehabilitation. All Prisoners at least deserve the opportunity of becoming better as human beings. All Prisoners families and loved ones also deserve at least the respect that we would give any other human being.

Why are our loved ones in prison? This is an interesting question. Many will debate that it does not matter what the circumstances were, the individual made a choice of conduct and knew the consequences of making that choice. You did the crime and you should do the time. I agree. I agree that if you commit a crime that you should be punished and in most cases regardless of the circumstance. I will never say that if you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol that you are not responsible for your crime. You are. But, in many circumstances you were not in control for that moment, and it was not YOU that committed the crime but the influence of drugs or alcohol. Anger and crimes of passion can be looked upon in the same way in my mind. I do believe that a person can be so jealous and/or so angry that they can commit a crime that otherwise they are not capable of committing. There are many circumstances like these that I would defend as not the ‘individual’ committing the crime but an “influence” committing the crime. The individual is still responsible for the crime but an ‘influence’ caused them to commit the crime and it was not necessarily premeditated. Am I trying to justify crime committed in this way? No, of course not. What I am trying to show here is that there are often outside influences in our lives that affect our behaviour. Even the most calm and complacent individual can find themselves in a situation of desperation, anger, or a drug induced state that causes an inability to judge right from wrong. Should these people be punished? Yes, but let’s look at the root cause of the crime and work to fix that root cause. If the crime is a result of drug or alcohol abuse then let’s work to fix that. If the crime is a result of anger then let’s work with an anger management program. There are many reasons that we commit crimes that are influenced by environment, circumstance, or otherwise induced state and they need to be looked at as such. Is this person that committed a crime under the influence that has received proper treatment going to re-offend? It is always a possibility, but we don’t have programs in place to rehabilitate and measure the success of such programs. Ask yourself however, that if these programs did exist would they make sense? Would they work? Would we have a more productive society if we cared enough to help our fellow man pick up and start over? Now don’t get me wrong here, as I am not suggesting that people committing crimes under an influence should not be incarcerated. Incarcerate them, but rehabilitate them and offer them programs to address the root cause. Most of our current Prisoners will be released one day and rehabilitation would be in the best interest of society.

Now we have to also consider premeditated crime. Planned crime. Is this a different kind of crime? Yes. Planned crime is and should be punished the way our correctional system is set up. This is more indicative and deserving of our system of incarceration today. Does this crime have a root cause like the “influenced” crime I speak of above? Yes. Can we treat or rehabilitate this individual? Yes. This however is a much further reaching debate, and has too many possibilities to discuss here. This kind of crime however does stretch across all types of crime from murder to fraud. Violent and non-violent crime is also found in this category. Again, we don’t have the programs or the measures in place to even offer a chance at change and success.

We must also consider the innocents that are in prison. I truly believe that most people don’t wish to consider that this is a problem or a reality. It is. Especially with the development of DNA testing we are seeing more and more innocently convicted ‘criminals’ released from prison. Media coverage is somewhat subdued when this is happening. Media is more interested in the sensationalism of the crime and punishment aspect and not the plight of one wrongly accused and incarcerated.

So the question was why are our loved ones in prison? They are there for many reasons. But remember that these Prisoners and their reasons for incarceration are as different in each individual case as are the differences that exist between those hundreds of people in any crowd, in any shopping mall in the country, at any given moment.

Here is another provoking thought. Many people ‘on the outside’ of the prison walls have committed crimes. Many of us have stolen as a child. Many of us have been involved in illicit drug use and perhaps sales of the same. Many of us have cheated or committed fraud against another. Many of us have driven under the influence. Many of us have done harm to another. What is the difference between them and us – the Prisoners in our prisons? We did not get caught. The point that I am attempting to make here is that our prisons are full of people that got caught committing a crime. You and I and our neighbors may be just as guilty but escaped or hidden our involvement and exposure of it. Before you condemn a Prisoner, look into your own past or look at your neighbor – could you or could they be just as guilty?

We know from a management perspective in corporate America that you cannot ‘manage’ effectively every individual in the same way. Each individual is unique and has unique ways of processing information as well as acting on that information. In corporate America we accept this fact and we design our management, training, and discipline systems to address this fact. Why have our prisons and correctional systems not kept pace with this reality? Why do we think that one punishment fits all crimes? Why do we think that all Prisoners are of the same motivation and affected by the same stimulus? Our prison system is archaic and is failing us by not being forward thinking and progressive. We are reactive rather than proactive. This is wrong.

Our Prisoners are as different as each leaf on a tree. No two are exactly the same. We will continue to lock together violent and non-violent offenders. If we are a product of our environment, (an old adage) then what will become of the non-violent offender when locked in close quarters with the habitually violent offender? Guess. One may argue that the non-violent offender can equally affect the disposition of the violent offender. Yes this is true, but it will depend on who is the stronger and the more dominate of the two. Who do you think will usually win? Guess. The definition on insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. Is this not what our correctional system is doing? They are doing the same thing that they have always done and they don’t understand why the result is not different. Makes you think doesn’t it?

Those of you who have children (especially if you have more than one) know that one strategy of encouragement, reward, and/or discipline does not work on each child equally. This is the same reasoning adopted by corporate America to recognize differences of individuals in the development of management strategy. Why then would this strategy of one crime, one punishment work on our Prisoners?

This one crime one punishment strategy leads us to what prison life is like. Well, truthfully I have not spent a day in prison – outside of a prison visiting room – but I will offer my perspective.

Prison is cold. Prison is sterile of any color outside of the depressing. Prison is emotionless. Prison is lonely. Prison is unforgiving. Prison is frightening. Prison is angry. Prison is loveless. Prison is violent. Prison is dominance over the weak. Prison is looking over your shoulder. Prison is 20 plus hours a day spent in a 6X8-foot room. Prison is no wall around your toilet. Prison is void of any privacy. Prison is sharing that 6X8-foot cell with someone that you don’t like and never will. Prison is being separated from the love of your family. Prison is expensive collect phone calls that you family pay for. Prison is a phone call to family that lasts five minutes every ninety days. Prison is a family visit that only lasts 20 minutes and is behind glass. Prison is leaving your significant other and kids behind. Prison is hoping with all you heart that you will receive mail today. Prison is tasteless food with insufficient time to eat it. Prison is never knowing if you are going to be violated - or by who. Prison is worrying that your significant other may find another while you are incarcerated. Prison is worrying that your children may forget or disown you. Prison is watching relationships that you once had fade. Prison is frustration with no outlet. Prison is crying yourself to sleep without sound so that no one knows you are crying. Prison is beating the system to survive. Prison is becoming the person and doing the things that you never thought yourself capable of being or doing. Prison is remorse. Prison is regret. Prison is shutting down your brain to the reality of existence and dreaming of a better place. Prison is seeing things that you never wanted to see. Prison is abuse. Prison is disease. Prison is rape. Prison is Gang related activity. Prison is emotional breakdown. Prison is stripping the individual of any feeling of worth. Prison is about authority exercised by the system over the Prisoner. Prison is about rules and regulations that change daily and without warning or explanation. Prison is about dominating our fallen angels to a point of submission. Prison is a sub culture and way of life that is sometimes worse than the original crime. Prison is a world of its own with tolerances exercised on both sides of the system – the Authority and the Prisoner. Prison is about contraband, supply and demand, goods and services that are prohibited, drugs, alcohol, violence, sex and rape. In a free society such as ours, our prisons are an atrocity and an insult to anyone with intelligence if you think that this system addresses a need or approaches a solution to reduce recidivism.

Prison is not all bad, nor am I advocating prison reform. Prison is what prison is, but we must recognize first and foremost that these Prisoners are people. They are human beings. Punishment is a necessary part of our freedom, our government and society, but is punishment best served by our current system? I am not going to answer that question myself. I will leave that to you – the reader – to decide. It is not until you know and love a Prisoner that you will have an appreciation for the life of a Prisoner. Again, if they did the crime, then even I believe that they should do the time. How the time is done and how the system is operated is however of fundamental concern. I will never advocate “Country Club” systems and in some circumstances our Prisoners have too many privileges. The problem is that the privileges that they have are not the right ones. The privileges that they need and can make a difference are seldom given. What do they need? I am an advocate of emotional health. Prisoners need to build and maintain emotional health. We stunt this part of the Prisoner when we incarcerate them. Prisoners need to maintain healthy contact with their loved ones. Prisoners need to count on that contact, as it is the only emotional contact they will experience while incarcerated. Remember that one day these Prisoners are going to be released and if you have deprived these individuals with rational and emotional contact how will they cope when they come out? What kind of stress does this present to loved ones and society? Strong emotional health is one of the most fundamental needs of a human being next to food and water. Emotional health keeps us balanced and functioning in a reasonable way. Lock someone up and starve him or her of a basic instinctual need and what happens? Human beings are social animals and we need contact. We need love. We need emotional ties and feelings. If Prisoners need any one privilege it is to have greater access to their loved ones whether through letters, phone or personal visits. Record the calls, videotape the visit, even post one Guard on every Prisoner in the visiting room – just allow greater contact to build and maintain these critical relationships with loved ones. Next in line and need are programs of education, skill training, and life counseling. Our Prisoners need to be challenged intellectually and physically while serving time. These challenges will develop skills that if present in the first place, may have kept them out of prison. Many programs are needed, far too many to list here. Prisons today are an industry and they manufacture their own raw ingredients by stunting the current Prisoner’s future success. By doing this the Prison industry is guaranteed a recurring recidivism rate to feed their industry, keep jobs in place and strengthen economies where the prisons are located. Keep them down and keep them coming back! Keep our Wardens, our Correctional Officers, our prison administrative people and all the related industry jobs gainfully employed. If the number of jobs that are currently involved with the prison system were in danger because we instituted programs and rehabilitation to Prisoners that would actually keep them out of prison – what would we do? Where would all these people work? Gosh, I don’t want to ask that question because one person’s employment in my mind does not warrant the gross treatment of our Prisoners and a system that is designed to breed and feed itself a revolving product. Crime as we know it today could stop and it would be decades before the prisons that we have today would be negatively affected because we already bring back most of those that are ever released!

Loving a Prisoner presents challenges. The word challenge does not really cover the degree to which you are tested when you love a Prisoner. When you love a Prisoner you too are in prison. You as family member, friend or significant other will ‘do the time’ with the Prisoner. Whether this is someone that you knew prior to incarceration – in the case of a family member or spouse – or someone that you met after incarceration - as a pen pal or through visitation groups or ministries - you will have challenges in your life.

The man or woman that you love and care for created victims through their crime, but in a similar sense you as the Prisoner’s loved one left behind become a victim. I know that this will enrage many people that read this statement. Think of it this way. You are the mother or the father and you love your son. You have a happy and healthy family life. Your family has never been in trouble with the law. Your son makes a critical mistake in judgement and -violent or non-violent - commits a crime. You did not see this coming. It blindsided you. Do you stop loving your son when he is tried, convicted, and sent to prison? No. Same situation goes for a significant other or a friend. Sometimes we just don’t see it coming and it just happens. Thankfully the innocently convicted have been able to retain the love and support of their friends and family to fight for their rights – you see if someone is thrown in prison it does not mean that we forget them. Every Prisoner is more than just their crime. Every Prisoner potentially has someone that is broken hearted and missing him or her no matter how heinous their crime. I know this is a large pill for some to swallow but it is true. Even the worst of the criminally insane may have someone that cares for them. Victims have rights and so do the families and loved ones of the convicted.

Loved ones of Prisoners fall into depressions. They lose jobs and they lose property when the loss of income is realized. They lose friends and often times the support of other family members that don’t understand their love and commitment to a Prisoner. Loved ones of Prisoners are shunned by society. Kids of Prisoners have problems in school. Men and women alike who’s significant others are incarcerated hold the home front and pray for their safety and security. Loved ones of Prisoners lead a secret life for fear of exposure and unnecessary grief from society. If your loved one committed a crime then how can you be trusted? Many significant others of Prisoners have lost jobs just because they are associated with someone that has been involved in criminal activity. Association does not mean participation, acceptance or even knowledge of criminal behavior prior to the crime being committed.

Loving a Prisoner is a challenge daily. Loving a Prisoner is a frustrating road of worry, doubt, depression, fear, anxiety, and abuse by a system that is not set up to punish us - but it does just the same. Loving a Prisoner is waiting for a letter or a phone call that sometimes does not come. Loving a Prisoner is calling the prison when that letter or phone call does not come, and being treated like pond scum when all you want to know is that they are alive and well. Loving a Prisoner is visiting either behind glass or with contact, but supervised, video taped and regulated down to the length of the shorts that you wear in the summer. Loving a Prisoner is about unconditional love, support and respect for a human being regardless of their crime - for a Prisoner is more than just their crime. Loving a Prisoner is crossing state borders and driving hundreds of miles for a 2-hour visit. Loving a Prisoner is supporting them through their hell and knowing that a simple hug would help but is impossible to give. Loving a Prisoner is watching them grieve when a parent or loved one passes and they say goodbye in solitude behind bars. Loving a Prisoner is sending them a videotape of the funeral so that they can have closure.

Loving a Prisoner is the best experience of my life! Loving a Prisoner is coming to know them through the written word and developing a mental and emotional intimacy that most people never share with someone that they love. Loving a Prisoner has taught me tolerance, patience, respect, forgiveness, and about sincerity, truth, unconditional love and most of all about the human condition. Now, loving a Prisoner is the most rewarding experience of my life. I have been in love before, but I have never achieved such an astounding level of love and commitment with anyone before in my life. Loving a Prisoner is all about communication and the sharing of thoughts, hopes and dreams because other than the emotion of love, communication is all that you have. Loving a Prisoner keeps you isolated from mainstream society because they don’t understand. A person comes to terms with this isolation and becomes somewhat self sufficient in order to deal with this life and choice of love. Loving a Prisoner opens your eyes to prison life and the inadequacy of the system based on what it is there to accomplish. This too you learn to accept as time goes on. Loving a Prisoner alienates you from society in general because they just don’t get it.

Friends and family are one of the biggest challenges when loving a Prisoner. I have told some people the full scenario, and others just know that my significant other is currently living in a different state. I hide from the truth with most people because I understand that other than with the people that I trust the most, I will become the talk at the water cooler, at parties, and anywhere where I am not. You will become an item of interest and speculation. You will be regarded as weird or different. People will ask you why you are doing this? You become the ‘joke’ and realize this when the conversation stops when you walk in the room. I have lived my life as a minority to society and have suffered ridicule because of my minority status. I have come to terms with the fact that if people don’t understand, agree or approve then they make fun and ostracize in defense of ‘their way’. I am accustomed to this kind of treatment so it has absolutely no affect on me. For some it does, it has tremendous affect. This kind of gossip and whispering behind the back can devastate peoples self worth and feeling of community and/or being accepted. This treatment is unfair and unnecessary and these people should look into their own lives before they treat others with a lack of dignity and respect. I realize that some people don’t intend any harm and that this situation is novel and a good opening line at a party or over coffee, but it hurts to be the subject of the latest gossip – even when harm is not intended. Loving a Prisoner is not a crime. Loving a Prisoner is human – nothing more and nothing less. It is Ok to love a Prisoner.

In the beginning I was concerned with what peoples perceptions were regarding my love for a Prisoner and as time goes by it does not matter much anymore. I think that the novelty of the situation has worn off for me too! I think that what I said above about being a ‘minority’ who has always been to a certain extent chastised by society has helped me cope with this less known, less accepted love story. I think that this is a main reason why I am at a point of not caring what society in general thinks or how they perceive the situation. I do however not want to walk away and hide, nor do I want to fight society with my choice. So how in fact do we break free from the common perceptions of what a Prisoner is? I don’t think that loving a Prisoner would matter if we could educate society to the fact that the definition of a Prisoner is not common from one Prisoner to another as well as the fact that no one Prisoner is solely defined by their crime. Now how do we do this? That is a question that will be difficult to answer and even more difficult to put an action plan into place. Society and people in general have preconceived ideas and opinions based on limited knowledge and fact. People are ignorant to the depth and scope and the differences that exist between Prisoners. I will not name any one person that is currently incarcerated but we are all aware that there are men and women that are currently locked up that are beyond rehabilitation and troubled psychologically beyond repair. Some of these people have committed crimes so heinous and we know that if they were let back into society would commit the same or equally heinous act again. The fact that an individual can commit a crime so terrible and could commit the same act again means to me that their incarceration (whatever the sentence) is a fitting punishment. This however does not eliminate the fact that this individual may be loved or may be capable of giving love. This individual is still human, first and foremost. The general population must come to terms with the fact that there are Prisoners in our system that have committed crimes against others that are not heinous, and these individuals are capable of seeing their mistake, feeling remorse for their act (violent or non-violent) and can be rehabilitated into active society as contributing members.

Prisoner, Inmate, Convict… These are all words that are used as labels to identify an individual that is incarcerated. The word “Prisoner” is just that – a label. Prisoners are people who have committed crimes. One word however cannot describe the individual crime, the motivation to commit that crime, the severity of the crime, whether the crime was violent, who that person was or could be, or whether that “Prisoner” will likely commit a crime again in the future. To make my point think of the word “tree”. When each and every person thinks of the word tree you will have a different image in your mind than someone else. Some of you will think of pine trees or evergreens, some will think of birch trees, some will think of oak or maple trees, and some of you will think of palm trees. There are thousands of types of trees in the world and every person that thinks of the word tree will probably have a different tree in mind. What is my point? We know that the word tree is just a label for many different species of trees and we generally accept it. We know that the difference is there because we all know that a palm tree will not grow in Alaska! We know that the word is a label and that all the ‘trees’ in the world are not the same. Some have different needs from others. They are all individually different. Why do we as a society not know this about Prisoners? Why do we choose to accept that each and every one of them is the same as the next? We must get past this.

Now, I am not going to validate the statistic that I am about to quote because although I read it somewhere I don’t remember where so please take it as you will. Basically, it was stated that if the current rate of incarceration that is experienced in the United States continues on its upward rate that by 2050 ( or there about ) 50% of the American population will be in prison! Do we have to wait for this to happen – where one in ever two Americans is in prison – before we understand that all Prisoners are not alike? I hope not. I would liken this dilemma with many other experiences in life. Until you have experienced a situation first hand (or done considerable research on the subject) you will have opinions that are perhaps not correct and perhaps down right wrong. Sometimes it takes first hand experience to come to terms and really understand what the truth of the situation is. I do believe that even if our incarcerated numbers continue to increase there will be the segments of society that will always look upon a Prisoner as a Prisoner – there will never be a consideration that one could be different from another.

Now, how did I come to this place in my life where I love a Prisoner? Does that really matter? For some I have learned it does. People want to know the how and why and what of the situation and I suppose this is an attempt to understand, or because they have never known this situation in their life. They are curious. Well, the short version of the story is that I was looking for a pen pal and found an Internet site that listed prison pen pals. This site intrigued me and I read ads with interest and decided to write two Prisoners. Both wrote back and one soon stopped writing for reasons unknown. The other continued to write and all I can say is that “love happened” somewhere about the six month mark while exchanging letters. Was I looking for love – gosh no. Did I even consider it an option when I started writing? Gosh, no. Am I incapable of love in a so-called socially acceptable normal situation? Gosh, no. I have had healthy relationships with people that are not incarcerated and I am a mentally healthy individual that is professional and living a happy life with a nice lifestyle overall. I am not weird, I am not strange, and I don’t run home and hide in my home and lock myself away from society. I am the ‘normal’ next door neighbor that you would never suspect would fall in love with a Prisoner – or so you thought! I am the friend that you have to dinner on a regular basis and go camping with, or travel with. I am the colleague at work that you have lunch with. I am they person that you trust to watch your home and pets when you are away. You leave your kids with me when you go out. I am just that person that you would never suspect as loving a Prisoner.

You see, we have come full loop now – the loop that I go through with my friends when they find out about my secret love. You see my friends see me as normal, and then I expose this secret love and after their initial shock and novelty, I explain all of the above and they still ask – why? Why would you love a Prisoner? There is that general word again – Prisoner. Some people will never get it!

Incarcerated Love - View From Inside

Not here to speak for himself - he is still locked up - the words to follow are from my Partner. This is his view of prison.

Incarcerated Love – A Peek Inside

If you have never been locked away – taken from the ones you love – you may never fully understand. Only through the words I am about to write do I hope to give you a glimpse into the world I’ve come to know. I’ll try my best not to repeat anything my counterpart has already said except to elaborate certain key points. I will however spill my guts to you and share with you what I wish I never knew.

“Incarcerated Love”

Who ever thought that a prisoner was even capable of love? Most people that have never even known a prisoner truly believe that a prisoner knows nothing but hatred – billing him as evil and judging us by the crimes we’ve committed.

We are people too. We make mistakes – and of course we are paying for them. We are more than our crime. We have hearts that beat and bleed that want to love and long to be loved. We are passionate, caring people – talented and ambitious - at least those of us with a hope of one day getting out of prison and leading a productive life. That’s not to say anything bad about ‘lifers’ though. We all need love and even ‘lifers’ are capable of leading a productive life from within the confines of the institution by offering their wisdom to help younger offenders adjust to the system or by being peacemakers within the prison. One thing holds true for all of us that are productive though. We all have someone on the outside that loves us or we can at least talk to or write to on a regular basis.

It’s not easy for a prisoner to fall in love with someone on the outside – especially when they have been incarcerated for a substantial amount of time. You see – the thing is – the longer we’ve been locked up the more loved ones we’ve lost. Whether those loved ones just don’t keep in touch anymore or they have passed on – it’s all the same. Out hearts still ache when our loved ones are lost. So there lies the hesitance. Should you let yourself go and throw caution to the wind? Should you open up your heart and take that chance? That’s one more person that could hurt you – that could break your heart. Then – if you do take that plunge – it’s a constant battle to maintain that relationship.

How often should you call? Although phone calls are important – how do you create a balance so that the phone bill isn’t outrageous and it doesn’t interfere with your daily routine? Most of us know from experience that it’s miserable without being able to hear your loved ones voice from time to time. So – don’t let the phone calls be a part of your daily routine. Instead – try to keep it down to once a week and write more often.

Promise Not To Tell -

Being incarcerated isn’t a cakewalk – far from it. Some of those on the bricks know this but still – there are others that just don’t understand what we deal with on a daily basis.

For most of us – especially those of us in maximum-security prisons – we see things everyday that would send most people over the edge. Hell – just this morning I was woken up for a ‘body-check’ because three people were stabbed at breakfast but one of them slipped away in the crowd. So of course the whole camp was locked down until they found him.

Think about all those things you see on the news. Imagine all that compacted into a population of about 1500 and happening on a daily basis. Stabbings, beatings, rapes, drug and gang activity, cons and head games, racial tension, and predators around every corner. The weak are forced to prove themselves just to survive the struggle that is now their life. Some are forced to fight – or fuck. Some give in for fear of their lives or bodily harm and surrender their money or even their bodies for protection. They choose to live their life under another man’s hand – broken – because they have nothing left to fight for., Some give in because they have everything to fight for. Fear kicks in. If they stab that guy what will happen to any chance of going home. A man’s future could change with one decision – and it doesn’t even have to be his.

If we told you everything we see – we’d never be able to talk about anything else. So be careful when you ask, “what’s on your mind?” You might not be ready for the answer you’ll get. It’s probably best if you let us keep the conversation to what we’ve been doing personally and things that affect you or us directly. You really don’t want to know or even need to know all the crap that goes on inside the fence.


Don’t even get me started on the programs (or lack thereof) offered to supposedly rehabilitate the prison population. G.E.D. classes and a four week drug program – both of which the state use as a reason to line their pockets. What gives? I mean – what if you already have your G.E.D. and you’ve taken this ‘drug class’ (and I have) that doesn’t teach you anything about drug prevention. Hell – I’ve seen guys take that class as many as 5-times because they keep getting caught with ‘Dirty UA’s”. The state makes more money. What’s a guy going to learn from a class that they have already taken four times before? That money could be used to set up a class for people who want to better themselves. Only in our dreams.

There is absolutely nothing for the prisoner that yearns for a higher education – unless he either teaches himself or sends away for a correspondence course. Teaching yourself takes a bit more than talent in itself and have you checked out the prices of those correspondence courses lately? Who do you think has to pay for it? The state sure isn’t going to put out the money to see a convict better himself. It has to be within ourselves to do for ourselves. We have to make it happen if we are to make it at all. Some of us are lucky though and have that special someone in the free world that’s in our corner pushing us to succeed. We need that push. We need to know that there is someone out there that cares if we’re getting out. And when we do – they care what kind of person we’re going to be.

Mental Breakdown –

We all need someone. Adam had Eve. Romeo had Juliet and I have my one and only. We are human beings. We are very social beings. We need to love and long to be loved. Without that need – that desire – we would merely be another member of the animal kingdom scraping and scrounging – fighting for survival. That’s what we become when we are deprived of that emotional bond. We all need someone – whether it’s family, a significant other or a pen pal. We need someone that we can talk to that takes us out of this jungle. If not – we become part of it.

Imagine if you will a place that’s dark and twisted packed with people who are tormented by their own personal demons. It’s a man-made hell watched over by man and governed by still another. Each and every day is filled with shadows that block out any hope of light. You have to make your own light while constantly looking over your shoulder – wondering when the next guy’s demons are going to break loose. You only spend four hours a day outside your cell and the whole time you’re thinking, “I can’t wait to get back to my cell” because at least then you know you’re safe – as long as your cell-mate doesn’t loose his mind. If he does by chance – where will you go? What will you do when he pulls out a sharp piece of steel and says, “Fuck, fight, or die?” What would you do if you were coming back from a meal and 3 or more guys rush into your cell after you, beat you within an inch of your life and take everything you own? Be thankful you weren’t raped as well. Retaliate? You have to stand up for yourself or be deemed a punk. Once they see an easy target – they’ll just keep on shooting at you.

Then – if that’s not enough – you have to remember that prison is a subculture and what lies inside are many other sub-cultures. You have your different religious affiliations and gang affiliates. Everybody in one way or another cliques within groups as small as 3 or 4 people. It doesn’t matter what you’re in to – chances are somebody else is too and that’s who will be watching your back. Where do you belong? Where will you fit in? Sometimes that decision can be the difference between living and dying.

My situation is often difficult. I have 2 cousins that are also in this prison but I hardly ever associate with them because of the company they keep. Although I know they would help me if I needed it – I try to keep myself out of those situations. I try to keep my associations to people that are like me – seeking higher education and a balance between work, exercise and making time for their loved ones in the free world. I associate myself with people who have dreams and goals and we try to help each other keep on track and out of trouble. It wasn’t always like that – but that’s another story.

One more thing before I go that I want you to remember about us. We are people just like you. We have so many emotions and frustrations bottled up inside us. We worry about you. We are filled with so much doubt and pain. We get depressed and we’re scared. I mean – what if one day the one we love doesn’t love us back anymore? It’s a constant battle to find a balance that sustains our need for love and companionship without getting so distracted that we let our guard down and fall victim to someone else’s games. We have to stay on our toes or become prey. We’re in the jungle and we need your help to keep us from becoming part of it. When we lose that outside contact – that’s when we become institutionalized and search for comfort within.

So if you have a loved one in prison, do what you can for him. Try to lift his spirits as much as possible. Remember how hard it is for a prisoner to give his heart in the first place. If you have it – cherish it and nurture it. Don’t’ let it die.

Maybe I’ll write in more depth on a series of prison topics. Are there many people out there who would like me to do that? And, if so – what would you like to know about specifically?

Teddy – January 2003

Unconditional Love

Unconditional Love

I am intrigued by the term ‘Unconditional Love’. What is it, and better yet - how do I get it? I want unconditional love. You hear people say that they love someone unconditionally. What does this mean?

Achieving unconditional love is a journey that is more about your own personal and spiritual growth, than the love you think you feel for, or from, your Partner. You may already be receiving unconditional love from your Partner, but that does not mean that unconditional love is automatically reciprocal in nature. It does not mean that you are giving the same love back.

I believe that love starts unconditionally in most all situations, and then we place conditions on our love. Putting up with conditions that are not what you want is not unconditional love; it is in fact conditional love.

When you give love unconditionally it is free of limitations, free of conditions, and free from judgment. Unconditional love must start from within through self-love. We must learn to love ourselves and accept ourselves – even our own poor choices from time to time - to really love ourselves. Loving oneself is a journey of self-discovery and as you identify and accept more of your own faults, you are more able to accept those of others. You are also more likely to not only accept your faults but work to change them.

Giving of unconditional love is allowing our Partners to make choices, relive past experiences, and fall down from time to time, all the while supporting them even when we know the choice they are making is wrong. Unconditional love is giving our Partners the same love no matter what choice they make and no matter what the result. It is about allowing our Partner to be who they are, and recognize that they are learning and growing as they move through this life. So are we. It is looking beyond the circumstance and accepting the person fully as they are at that moment in time. It is not looking at your Partner as who you want them to be. Too many times we want a person to be who WE want them to be instead of who they are.

We are all (hopefully) on a mission of spiritual growth – constantly becoming better, building, and growing within. As we recognize our own faults, and work to fix them, we become more tolerant of our Partner’s faults and learn to look past them. No, tolerant is not the right word – “accepting” is a better word. Recognizing, isolating, but not accepting a fault, is a condition we place on the love we give.

I read a book some time back that explored the concept of unconditional love from one man’s perspective. From memory, the author expressed the notion that achieving unconditional love in any relationship was the ultimate goal in our lives. He did also imply that the point of most relationship breakdown was at the very point where unconditional love is most likely to be achieved! Think about this. The point of relationship breakdown is when you have the absolute opportunity to achieve unconditional love. But… most do not or we would not have the divorce/separation rates that we have today.

Why is this a point in a relationship where we have the opportunity to flourish and we fail? It is obviously the point in the relationship where we have placed the most ‘conditions’ on our love. We are at loggerheads with each other and not accepting of the other – their ways, their choices, or even their lack of. We have come through the sexual attraction, the infatuation, and the comfort phases of our relationship and now the rubber hits the road and we are challenged with the reality of each other. This is the time that we have the most conditions on our love. Are we trying to make this person into something that we want rather than accept them for who they are – faults and all? Why have we been able to look past these faults until now? Were we always hoping that they would change because we wanted them to?

I remember this author discussing the fact that the couples who devote the time and energy at this point in their relationship to really explore who they are as individuals, and find acceptance with each other, have the most opportunity to get past this point and actually achieve unconditional love. The question is really more about ourselves and how we allow the actions or choices of our Partner affect us. Is your Partner growing spiritually or in life experience or is your Partner stagnating. Are you growing personally or are you stagnating. Does their growth threaten your own feelings about yourself? Does your growth threaten their self-esteem? Why? Is it because you are not secure enough within yourself, or your Partner is not secure enough within?

When we love ourselves, when we accept ourselves including our own faults, we are more likely to accept the faults of our Partner. This is not just about faults, we need to accept all aspects of our Partner and love them for every fault, choice, and decision they make. When we don’t feel the need to condemn or compete with our Partner, but be ourselves and accept who they are, we are moving in the direction of both giving and receiving unconditional love.

I think that unconditional love is about reaching a point in a relationship where you are at your wits end - but being there is still better than not. Unconditional love is when you or your Partner are at your lowest point and you still both want and need to be there – unconditionally. Unconditional love is about love at its most critical point – the point where most would give up or not support their Partner. Unconditional love is free of conditions.